Earlier this year, I was invited to speak during the Mohammed bin Zayed Majlis for Future Generations. The best part of my experience wasn’t the opportunity to speak to the students, but rather listening to the speech by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces.
Sheikh Mohammed spoke about several topics, including the importance of Emiratis maintaining a strong positive reputation at all times. Every action, he said, good or bad, will reflect the image of our nation.
Media today is primarily driven by technology, and thus there’s potential for news to spread via social-media channels across the globe in a matter of seconds, which is why citizens must be cautious of how the rest of the world views Emiratis and the country as a whole. How we treat other people, how we carry ourselves and so on, is the impression we leave for others.
Take, for example, the young Emirati man who performed dangerous stunts with his car on a wet street in City Walk, Dubai. Such actions could give bad impressions of young Emiratis. I’m not saying that you can’t have fun, but it shouldn’t harm or put other people’s lives in danger.
Nor should we only focus on negative behaviour. Many Emiratis have done other honourable and brave things, such as the young Emirati student who saved a woman after she was robbed and injured in the middle of a street in the United States.
Every citizen is an ambassador, and they shouldn’t restrict this title to the official ambassadors appointed by the country’s leadership who represent the UAE in diplomatic affairs. The majority of people still tend to generalise and stereotype based on a single experience. First impressions are more powerful than we think.
In E L Thorndike's 1920 paper A Constant Error on Psychological Rating, published in the Journal of Applied Psychology, this is referred to as the "devil effect", where we, for example, immediately form an image of an ideal professional when we see a person in an expensive suit.
Now, with the wider Middle East engulfed in chaos, the UAE stands out as a beacon of hope for people looking to build some sort of future in this region.
A recent poll conducted by Asda’a Burson-Marsteller revealed that among a pool of 3,500 people surveyed in 16 countries, one in three Arab youth, ages 18 to 24, prefers to live in the UAE. This is the sixth year in a row that the UAE has been ranked the top country and has also outranked the United States and Canada.
This message has been reinforced by the newly established Soft Power Council in the UAE, which will focus on promoting public diplomacy. Sheikh Mohammed said: “We are all ambassadors for the UAE, and we must double our efforts to maintain the image of our country and to promote our unique approach, values and aspirations.”
I have a tourism background, and maybe I have an advantage in understanding this phenomenon. There’s a study that most tourism boards commission that gathers data from visitors about the “brand” of the destination for which it’s trying to attract visitors. This information is critical for decision-making and ultimately plays a major role in making the destination successful.
In my book, Just Read It, I talk about the importance of reputation, because as an entrepreneur, we know the importance of maintaining a positive image. If a business person loses integrity and credibility, the business could be severely affected and this could result in total loss of the venture.
I always advise people to consider this quote: “Watch your thoughts, they become your words. Watch your words, they become your actions. Watch your actions, they become your habits. Your habits become your character, and your character will become your destiny.”
Omar Al Busaidy is the author of the book Just Read It and managing partner in salon enterprise W Gents Salon.